The Commerce Department’s Exporter Database (EDB) and “Profile of U.S. Importing and Exporting Companies” (“Profile”) report provide an annual statistical profile of U.S. exporting and importing companies, including their number, size, industry composition, and geographic distribution. The EDB and the “Profile” are joint projects of the Census Bureau and the International Trade Administration. The "Profile" has been updated with 2017 data, but the latest available data from the EDB is for 2016.
Last Published: 7/10/2019

The following details technical information specifically for the Exporter Database (EDB). While the methodology between the EDB and Census Bureau’s “Profile of U.S. Importing and Exporting Companies” report is consistent, see the “Technical Documentation” for information specific to the most recent "Profile".

All statistics on exporters refer to companies, not establishments. Companies are legal entities that consist of one or more commercial establishments. Establishments are individual business units, or locations, where economic activity takes place. Establishments include factories, warehouses, and retailing facilities. The terms "company," "enterprise," and "firm" are used interchangeably. The EDB includes both U.S.-domiciled companies and U.S. affiliates of foreign firms that export goods from the United States.

The EDB lists all enterprises that could be identified from the electronic export information (EEI) entered into the Automated Export System (AES) that was filed, per U.S. regulations, for merchandise exiting the country. To identify exporters, the Census Bureau uses Employer Identification Numbers and other information supplied through AES to link these documents to the Bureau's Business Register.

The EDB only captures companies that have at least one export shipment during the year valued at $2,501 or more. Also, the EDB tracks only exporters of merchandise—i.e., goods. Firms that export services only are excluded. However, service companies (wholesalers, retailers, engineering and architectural firms, etc.) that also export goods are included.

All businesses included in the EDB are direct exporters, i.e., entities that ship merchandise from their factories (or other facilities they own) to a foreign destination. Excluded from the EDB are so-called "indirect" exporters whose export role is limited to (1) providing components or other inputs to businesses engaged in export production and marketing, or (2) supplying goods to independent intermediaries which, in turn, market the products internationally.

Any statistics in the EDB that profile exporters at the state, metropolitan, or zip code level were compiled on an 
Origin of Movement ZIP Code (OM-ZIP) basis. Beginning with 2005 data in the EDB, the geographic origin of the export is determined by the zip code of the U.S. Principal Party of Interest (USPPI). In years prior to 2005, the state of export origin in this series was determined by the 'state of origin' field entered into Automated Export System, which assigns exporters to states based on the transportation origin of the goods. See “Metropolitan Data Methodology” for more information on the OM-ZIP and “State Data Methodology” for more information on the OM-State methodologies.
Due to this change in methodology, state exporter totals from 2005 and beyond should not be compared to state exporter totals from earlier years. While the new series still has many of the limitations inherent to measuring exports on an OM-basis based on the reported state, compiling export statistics based on the zip code of the USPPI allows for analysis of exports on a sub-state basis.
Geographic origin data in the exhibits in the “Profile of U.S. Importing and Exporting Companies” use a OM-State basis methodology, as do the state export statistics in databases such as TradeStats Express. Therefore, exporter counts by state will differ between the EDB and the ”Profile”. In addition, EDB data should not be compared to OM-State based export data.

Definitions & Terminology
Companies in the EDB are classified according to employment size ranges. There are no universally accepted guidelines for classifying companies by size. Classification criteria tend to vary with analytical purpose and organizational mission. For the purposes of this data, small firms are defined as those with fewer than 100 employees (very small firms are those with fewer than 20 employees). Medium-sized firms employ from 100 to 499 workers. Large firms are those with 500 or more employees. These definitions differ from those used by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which defines small firms as those with fewer than 500 employees.

Companies in this database are divided into three categories: manufacturers, wholesalers, and "other companies." Manufacturers are firms that fall into NAICS classifications 31 to 33. Wholesalers fall into classification 42, as do brokers, agents, and similar entities primarily engaged in the distribution of goods to businesses. The term "other companies" embraces all remaining NAICS categories including resource extraction companies, retailers, freight forwarders, engineering firms, and miscellaneous service companies that often market goods abroad and act as exporters of record.

All statistics in this database regarding the number of employees in exporting companies refer to the total number of full- and part-time workers, not just workers whose jobs are supported by exports.

All export value data in the EDB are on an FAS (Free Alongside Ship) basis and include both domestic exports and re-exports of foreign merchandise.

Because not all export transactions can be definitively linked to the firms that filed them due to a variety of factors—e.g., misreporting by firms, errors in collection and processing, and coverage problems—the EDB may slightly understate the total number of exporters and importers. Nevertheless, the EDB likely captures almost all significant exporters. This is because only one valid export declaration is needed to link an exporter to Census databases. If a company submits 1,000 export declarations and all but one are invalid, the company is still captured by the EDB.

Due to improvements in methodology and data collection, the 2016 match rate for exporters of 89 percent (by value) was 11 percentage points higher than the 1992 match rate of 78 percent. As a result, changes in the number of exporters over the 1992–2016 period should be interpreted with some caution. Some unknown portion of the increase in the exporter population was undoubtedly the by-product of measurement enhancements. Regardless, overall trends documented by the EDB are fully corroborated by a large body of anecdotal evidence reported in the media and by an upsurge in U.S. companies seeking assistance from government export promotion agencies.

EDB data on individual firms (including company names and addresses) are not available to the public; federal regulations prohibit public release of confidential business information provided to the U.S. government. All data in the EDB and related statistical tables available from Census are in anonymous form and have been aggregated to a level where individual firms cannot be identified.

Exporter counts cannot be summed across geographies such as state, zip code, or export market to arrive at national or regional totals. Attempting to do so will often result in double-counting, because some exporting companies, especially large multi-establishment firms, frequently export from multiple locations. Similarly, a single firm may export to more than one market. Several trading regions have been pre-aggregated in the database, in order to analyze U.S. exports to significant groups such as the European Union, and U.S. Free Trade Agreement Partners. 

Exporter counts also cannot be summed across product categories to arrive at aggregate totals. Many companies export products that fall into more than one NAICS category. It follows that such companies can be represented multiple times in tables and graphs that profile exporters by type of product exported.

Because of U.S. laws that preclude disclosure of confidential business data provided to the federal government, some data may be suppressed (i.e. not available). In these cases, the relevant data is replaced by a ‘D’.

Updated April 2017. Prepared by the Office of Trade and Economic Analysis, Industry and Analysis.